Boston Celtics

The Significance of Markieff Morris’ Health

Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris rolled his ankle in what appeared to be particularly painful fashion during game one of his team’s second round series against the Boston Celtics.

He landed awkwardly on Al Horford’s foot after a jump shot, and crumpled to the ground where he writhed in pain. Morris was eventually able to rise and support his own weight. He even managed to limp to the free throw line after a timeout to complete the and-one opportunity he had earned. The Wizards immediately fouled in order to sub him out, however, and he was never heard from again.

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Morris has made it clear that he intends to play in game two, and Washington’s medical staff has made no objections. Nothing was broken, so presumably it’s fine for him to give it a go, but it’s hard to imagine that Morris isn’t at least very uncomfortable, if not experiencing a considerable amount of pain. Just how effectively he can manage the injury may define the series.

Morris, in all honesty, is likely the Wizards’ worst starter. He isn’t overwhelmingly good at anything, but he has a versatility that the rest of Washington’s roster sorely lacks. Morris has enough quickness to toggle between forward positions on defense, enough of a shooting stroke to make teams think twice about playing a lumbering big against him, and enough power in the post to make sticking a wing or guard on him risky.

The issue isn’t that Morris is so good at all of those things that he is critical to Washington’s success, but rather he is just good enough to force Boston to make some difficult rotation decisions. He is the Wizard’s only real threat to make the Celtics pay down low for consistently switching screens that don’t involve center Marcin Gortat, and probably their greatest hope in dealing with smaller units defensively, without sacrificing much in other areas.

Apr 30, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) looks to pass around Washington Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) during the second quarter in game one of the second round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Washington has alternatives, they’re just all flawed. In the immediate wake of the injury, the Wizards downsized by playing Kelly Oubre Jr. The move made sense, given Boston’s heavy emphasis on smaller lineups. Oubre is a quick wing, capable of opponents around on the perimeter. He’s a minus offensive player though, and a natural hiding place for Isaiah Thomas on defense.

Bojan Bogdanovic is another option, and something of the inverse of Oubre- a sweet shooting, albeit slow-footed big who can get buckets in bunches, but struggles to defend. He’s a defensive liability in the post and on the perimeter, which makes the thought of playing him major minutes an unpleasant one.

Washington might think about allocating more minutes to Jason Smith, or could even dust the moth balls off of a player like Andrew Nicholson. Those aren’t likely to be particularly tenable solutions though, and really what the Wizards need is a functional Morris. Both teams would be wise to monitor his play throughout the rest of the series.

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